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Van Ostern, Sununu’s Executive Council voting records become fodder for debate in gubernatorial race

  • Chris Sununu (left) and Colin Van Ostern (right) participate in a forum moderated by Scott Spradling (center) on Thursday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Gubernatorial candidates Chris Sununu and Colin Van Ostern participated in a forum hosted by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce and AARP New Hampshire and moderated by Scott Spradling at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Gubernatorial candidates Chris Sununu and Colin Van Ostern participated in a forum hosted by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce and AARP New Hampshire and moderated by Scott Spradling at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Scott Spradling moderated a gubernatorial candidates forum hosted by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce and AARP New Hampshire at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu speaks during a forum hosted by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce and AARP New Hampshire and moderated by Scott Spradling at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern speaks during a forum hosted by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce and AARP New Hampshire and moderated by Scott Spradling at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Gubernatorial candidates Chris Sununu and Colin Van Ostern participate in a forum hosted by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce and AARP at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord on Thursday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Friday, September 23, 2016

Now that two executive councilors are running for governor, the little-known government body is getting a lot of attention.

At a forum held by the Concord Chamber of Commerce and AARP, Republican Chris Sununu of Newfields and Democrat Colin Van Ostern of Concord squabbled over their voting records on the five-member council, which is charged with approving government contracts and appointing commissioners and judges.

The candidates debated whether their past votes on the Executive Council were motivated by ideology or simply a regulatory process of checks and balances, with the most heated parts of the forum coming during a question about votes on Medicaid expansion and Planned Parenthood funding.

When it came to Medicaid expansion, Van Ostern tried to carve out a clear distinction between himself and his opponent.

“I’ve said I think we need to make it permanent; he said he thinks we need to end it,” Van Ostern said. “He tends to use the grandfathering, but I think we all know what grandfathering means.”

When Van Ostern hit Sununu on his vote against authorizing Medicaid expansion, Sununu called it a mischaracterization.

“It’s appalling to actually hear this,” Sununu said. “I’ve never advocated for cutting 50,000 people off of expanded Medicaid.”

Sununu pointed out he’s voted both for and against the program in the past. He added that his votes against it were motivated not by ideology, but by concern the council was not given enough time to evaluate a contract put on its agenda as a late item.

“The vote that Councilor Van Ostern is referring to was a vote on a $292 million contract that we received 20 minutes before the vote,” Sununu said. “He and the governor even admitted they had not read the contract.”

Sununu said he advocated to wait and take the vote a few weeks later but was told the contract had to be passed immediately to get federal money.

On stage Thursday, Sununu said he supports Medicaid expansion but is opposed to making the program permanent. Sununu’s economic plan also states he supports repealing the Affordable Care Act and would like to see more private alternatives and competition when it comes to health insurance.

Sununu’s high-profile votes against and for Planned Parenthood funding were also points of contention.

Sununu voted to deny funding to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England last year amid a controversy involving officials at the national organization accused of discussing the sale of fetal tissue. Sununu has said he did not want the state doing business with an organization under investigation; after Planned Parenthood was cleared of any wrongdoing, he voted this summer to fund it.

On Thursday, he again said his vote was not motivated by ideology.

“It’s about process, it wasn’t about policy, it’s about doing right for the people of New Hampshire,” he said, adding that he voted to fund the organization knowing “it could be the end of me politically.”

Once again, Van Ostern fired back.

“The reality is that had real, direct harm,” Van Ostern said. “It’s not about process, it’s about people. There are hundreds of women and families who had a harder time accessing birth control and cancer screenings. This is not abstract.”

A group of female Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Sununu on Thursday morning expressing concern over his past comments about opening an investigation into Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

“If there was a reason to investigate any business in the state, I would be open to it,” Sununu said to reporters after the forum, adding that he is not currently calling for an investigation into the organization. “As far as I know, there is no reason to launch an investigation into Planned Parenthood.”

Thursday’s forum focused on the economy and came on the heels of another debate on business and the economy hosted by New Hampshire Public Radio and the Business and Industry Association.

After emerging from a crowded primary, Van Ostern and Sununu are giving clear indications of where they differ.

Van Ostern’s message has been largely about continuing the progress of the last two Democratic governors.

Sununu is presenting himself as a pragmatic Republican trying to get federal government influence out of New Hampshire.

The two men differ on a number of issues, including instituting a state minimum wage, right-to-work legislation, the Northern Pass project, and bringing commuter rail to connect Manchester and Nashua to Boston.

Commuter rail is a central issue of Van Ostern’s campaign. The Democrat argues it will incentivize more people to travel to New Hampshire to work and create 5,600 new jobs.

“The business leaders, your colleagues at the chambers of commerce in Manchester and Nashua, as well as business leaders all across our state say this is one of the tools that we need to help our economy,” Van Ostern said.

His opponent said he would rather deal with the state’s ailing roads and bridges before starting a new project.

“Councilor Van Ostern has been out promoting a $300 million train that would take 2,000 people a day to work into Boston and not drive any real economic benefit to the state,” Sununu said.